Today was all about icebergs and glaciers. We had caught a taster of the glacial lagoons yesterday in the gloom, but had been praying for fine weather today so that we could experience them in all their glory.
Last night, before going to sleep, Howard did a sun-dance. Seriously! We had made a gamble with the weather (along with some Icelandic forecasting), and chosen to drive the best part of the south coast of Iceland, through wind and rain, in order to catch the weather window that was predicted for today.
It paid off. Despite biblical rain overnight, we awoke to sunshine and barely any wind. The harbour in Hofn looked calm and serene compared with last night, with the water like a mill pond. We had a quick look around, to check that there were no more whale sightings to be had, then we were off. We drove back westwards towards Jokulsarlon and the glacial lagoons. This morning, the landscape was transformed compared with yesterday. Driving out of Hofn, we immediately caught sight of the enormous Vatnajokull glacier, with three huge tongues of ice extending out into the Hornafjorour coastal plain. It was an absolutely stunning sight, all the more amazing, because as we had driven past yesterday in the rain and mist, we had not seen anything of this. Equally, the huge mountains with their screes coming right down beside the road, had been obscured to us yesterday.
Glaciers in Iceland make up 10% of the total land mass, and this southern glacier, Vatnajokull, accounts for a whopping 8% of Iceland’s land mass. The precipitation and snowfall onto the glacier each year is four metres, but despite this, the glacier is slowly receding. At Jokulsarlon, the glacier has formed a lagoon, which empties out into the ocean. This has created the amazing phenomenon of icebergs being deposited out from the lagoon into the sea. The lagoon is tidal, and every day with the tide, huge chunks of ice can be seen flowing down the narrow outlet channel and into the surf. Some of these monsters then get washed back onto the black volcanic sands, and at low tide, the beach is smattered with icebergs. It is quite an amazing sight to behold. I had read about it and seen photographs of it, but to witness it first hand was just incredible.
Somehow, icebergs seem to bring out the kid in men. Grown men were picking the smaller ones up and throwing them, or clambering onto the larger stranded ones posing for photos. Mentioning no names, but someone I know couldn’t resist a photo opportunity, only trouble being he was left with a very wet bottom after sitting on one.
After wandering down the beach, we crossed over the road to the inner lagoon, where we had an appointment. We had booked a ride on an amphibious craft that launches itself into the lagoon, and cruises around the icebergs and up to the glacial edge.
The craft itself looks a little like the Duck Tours, like you see in Boston. Life jacketed up, we set off. You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to be doing this. Again, it was something I had read about years ago, and it was one of my dreams to actually do it. The guide told us about the glacier and the icebergs, explaining that the salt water in the lagoon was causing the bergs to slowly melt, and that at some point, most would somersault over, exposing their black bottoms where they had ground their way down the mountainside. They were all shapes and sizes, some with the vivid blue colouration, others more white and subdued. It was a brilliant way to spend an hour, and one which I will never forget.
Back on dry land again, and warmed up by a coffee, we climbed up the scree slope by the lagoon, and sat and ate our packed lunch. We just sat, and stared. It was the most remarkable sight, and one which we both feel very privileged to witness. The sun was still shining, and the sky blue was reflecting a brilliant blue in the lagoon – just wonderful.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away, and headed back over the road to the beach. By this time, the tide had come in, and all the stranded icebergs were bobbing around on the waves, with just small fragments left littering the shore-line.
After a walk along the black volcanic sands, we headed on once more, back to the Fjallsarlon lagoon which we had visited yesterday. It was transformed in the sunshine. The ghostly visions of icebergs peering through the mist was now replaced with vibrant ice blues, and the glacier clearly seen beyond. It was much less crowded than yesterday, and walking around the still shoreline, we found ourselves alone, looking out over this amazing sight. I’m not sure how long we stood and stared, but it was hard to take your eyes off this magnificent vision. Just incredible.
Howard and I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to visit this very special place. For me, it is one of the highlights of our trip to Iceland so far. I think it will be hard to surpass.
Tonight, we’re both exhausted and elated. My fingers are sore from pressing the shutter button too many times on my camera, but somehow I doubt that any of my images will be able to convey the absolute beauty of what we have seen today.
I texted my ‘photo girls’ earlier, who were raving about the heat wave in the UK. They didn’t seem taken with icebergs. Well – each to their own, but for me, this was one of the best days of our trip. It just leaves me to thank Howard profusely for that rather weird dance he did last night, and for my friend Sandra for huffing and puffing the sunshine our way! Good job all.